The cyclical-antenarrative connects the living story ontology to the narrative epistemic in a linear way.

Hannah Arendt and the Linearity of Cyclical-Antenarrative connection beteween Living Story and Narrative Representation

David M. Boje - June 1 2012, updated June 5 2012


Hannah Arendt follows Nietzsche in theorizing a eternal-cyclic-recurrence as what I will call living life outside the cave of narrative, in Mother Nature's world. Arendt goes against a Heideggerian primordial life to death approach to living story. Rather, Ardent's living story is nature's material condition, has two stages of "ever-recurring cycle of biological life" (Arendt, 1958: 99). In this essay, I try to make it clear what the cyclic-antenarrative of eternal recurrence is inear. Living stories of beings mix with living things of Nature. In transforming Nature process to human-made processes, the two stages of antenarrative-cyclicity move into linear causality. I will use the example of how word-smithing in university intellectual labor is different from black-smithing in the hand-labor of art work.

“A philosophy of life that does not arrive as did Nietzsche at the affirmation of ‘eternal recurrence’ (ewige Wiederkehr) as the highest principle of all being, simply does not know that it is talking about” (Arendt, 1958: 97).

In this cyclical-recurrence-antenarrative there is a connection made between living story and narrative. Ardent explains why this is a linear process, because it takes eternal recurrence processes of nature into cyclical-processes that are human-made.

“Life is a process that everywhere uses up durability, wears it down, makes it disappear, until eventually dead matter, the result of small, single, cyclical, life processes, returns into the over-all gigantic circle of nature herself, where no beginning and no end exist and where all natural things swing in changeless, deathless repetition” (p. 96).

For Arendt, it is Mother Nature that forces all living-stories-with-living-things to know neither birth nor death as Heidegger understands them primordially. Rather the living story is “unique, unexchangeable, and unrepeatable entities” in the bond of living story with living thing that appear and depart (p. 96-7).  We are born into a living story world of constant movement, where durability and relative permanence of living beings and living thing makes our appearance and disappearance possible, where we are born and from which we die. 

Why cyclical-antenarrative connections between living story and narrative representation are linear. The primordial ‘life’ between birth and death (p. 97), limits life to a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’ that “follows a strictly linear movement” “driven by the motor of biological life” which human things share with “other living things” and this for Arendt, following Nietzsche follows and retains “the cyclical movement of nature” (p. 97). In the primordial living story we appear and depart in an antenarrative-cyclicity that “can be told as a story, establish a biography’ it is of this life, bios as distinguished from more zoë, that Aristotle said is “somehow a kind of praxis” (citing Politics, 1254a7, p. 97 in Arendt). The living story by its cyclical-antenarrative bridging arrives at a narrative with enough coherence to be told despite how the “accidentally or haphazard” single events and their causation appear to be (p. 97). “It is only within the human world that nature’s cyclical movement manifests itself as growth and decay. Like birth and death, they, too, are not natural occurrences, properly speaking; they have no place in the unceasing, indefatigable cycle in which the whole household of nature swings perpetually. Only when they enter the man-made world can nature’s processes be characterized by growth and decay’ only if we consider nature’s products, this tree or ths dog, as individual things, thereby already removing them from their ‘natural’ surroundings and putting them into our world, do they begin to gow and to decay” (p. 97-98).


The whole factual world of blacksmithing art sculpture depends on the narrative to reify the living story life. Blacksmith art's continued existence depends on the presence of others to see, hear, and remember by narrative. Narratives are good for that. However, in this process of reification, the living story ontology loses its tangibility in those narrative reifications, so only dead-text remains, and the "living spirit" of living story departs (Arendt, 1958: p. 95).

The quantum-materialism of the blacksmithing art is based on making a durable product, one that is cared for by narrative, and cared for teh by archivist, the gallery, museum, and private collectors. Blacksmithing art has more durable permanence than the facotry produced consumable cheap imitations. The act/deed of the blacksmith artist is to make durable things. And somehow they are more durable than the word-smithing of the professor's intellectual labor power.

"Their reality depends entirely upon human plurality, upon the constant presence of others, who can see and hear and therfore testify to their existence" (p. 95).

The blacksmith art things are durable in spacetimemattering, in a quantum storytelling that is different than consummer goods, which by incessant consumption just disappear quickly. And as the university transforms into consumer goods, by consumer-professors, word-smithing loses something.

It is ironic that intellectual labor of the university provfessor (my other life), is increasingly subject to incessant asessment consumption. My intellectual performances in the classroom get semester by semester outcome assessment. My scribing of articles gets annual intellectual labor assessment. My manual labor of blacksmithing art, on the other hand, that handicraft and hand labor, makes durable goods, not useful goods of consumption. The professor's intellectual labor is white-collar work, the keystrokes of word-smithing are consumed quickly, but my blacksmith art is black-collar work, where the iron and coal dust, the smoke of the fire are inhaled as the living story with metal-materiality makes durable goods, and meanwhile my university intellectual labor is consumed in each assessment exercise withn the university bureaucratic machine and the bureaucratic academy. Assessment is about the upkeep of the "giganic bureaucratice machines whose procecesses consome thier services and devour their prducts as quckly and mercillessly as the ibological life process itself" (p. 93).

The univesity devours my publications and classroom performances as quickly and mercilessly as it can in its assessment processes,, to measure and gauge it against other professors in order to develop "potential surplus" value by harnessing intellectual labor power in the white-collar jobs (p. 93). We wage-slaces have a fleeting undurable product, even the publications have a half-life of value good only until the next cycle of assessments.

Manual labor, of a blacksmith aritst is a durable art, a thing that outlasts a professor's publication. The professor is just another sordid trandsperson, a plitical commodity, a white-collar slave to the cycle of assessment and the university's quest for surplus value.

Living Story - Living story and Hannah Arendt
To eliminate the “pain and effort” to life the “life of the gods” would mean a life that is lifelessness itself (p. 122). Arendt makes that point that in the Greek city-state private labor by slaves made it possible for the masters to enter the public realm because it was slaves that carried the burden of consumption, i.e. the “biological life cycle” and the recurring rhythms of consumption-production processes of short duration. Yet the rich who try to live the aesthetic life of beautiful things become detached from living story because to eliminate pain and effort, is to rob life itself of its vitality.  Aristotle foresaw that even tools with automation (all the modern gadgets we have today) would not be able to fulfill the consumption stage of the biological life cycle (see Aristotle Politics 1253b30 – 1254a16, as cited in Arendt, 1958: 122 footnote).
In the Medieval cities of the Middle Ages, labor became part of the production centers, such as the guilds of the blacksmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths, armorers, blade and sword smiths. Masters could escape the tedium and necessity of the labor process, its repetitive production-consumption cyclical-antenarrative, and pursue the more unique facets of the blacksmithing art.
The alchemy of blacksmithing art has material production that is part of Nature’s elements. Its iron-art hand-made products live in longer duration than the brief instantaneous production-consumption cyclical-antenarrative processes of those working in fabrication in the recurring rhythm of tedious repetition. The laboring master blacksmith uses their primordial tools àhammer, anvil, forge, tongs, etc. during the day, and in the night has time to be a critic. Now, I as a blacksmithing art hobbyist, have the time in the moringing and evening to live the life of the critic, but must provide for necessity of biological life cycle with my intellectual labor, that is of  short duration in the university assessment world, where the half-life of a journal article or book, is less than the long duration of my blacksmithing art sculptures.
Like Heidegger, Bakhtin, and Mead – Arendt is critical of Bergson’s durée (see p. 117). Nietzsche and Bergson, according to Arendt di proclaim life and not labor to be the “creation of all values” (Arendt, 1958: p. 117), but Bergson still idealizes labor, equating it with work and fabrication, and this lessens the notion of biological life in Bergson’s élan vital.



Because all cyclical-antenarratives connect living stories to narratives by processes of reificaiton they are linear. And this raises the question, of how to transform from the linear to the nonlinear. For that requires a move away form Abbott's (1988) General Linear Reality (GLR) model of linear causality, and cyclical causality, into the spiral- and rhizomatic-antenarrative causalities. That is a radical temporality, one that is from future to past, and future to present, rather than the usual linear presumption of past->present->future directionality and causal order.

How do we move from narrative back into living story, from academic intellectual labor into living story relation with materiality? Marx's standpoint is that mateiralism is socialized being, and that we are alienated in our "labor of life" (Arendt's citation of Marx, see p 89 footnote).

Laboring in uniersities-as-factories transforms professors into commodity producers, in short cycles of assessments, into things producted in classroom and in publication that are alienated objects, divorced from human life, and living story.

A professor can learn a great eal about living story from the blacksmith artist, the producer of things that last, the duration of art made by metal, by hands that materialize art, for the care of the care-givers, those collectors, galleries, and museums. Blacksmith art levaves behind things more durable, not everlasting, by certaionly outliving a professor's publicaitons. The blacksmith artist's whole body, the motion of the arm, the wing of the hammer, the processes of moving metel, the alchemy of fire, water, air, earth, and ether --- all go into the hand-work, in ways that intellectual labor, its fleeting performances for quick and dirty consumption cannot fathom. Adam Smiths division of labor in the university bureaucratic machine, the productivity of intellectual labor is far from living story, closer to dead-text of narrative.

It comes down to cyclic-antenarratives of sameness, the recurring sameness, the future just a recurring of the past. The blacksmith artist, by contrast, has a futuring, a choice of many futures, that is a diffent ontology in spacetimemattering, a different quantum storytleling.

I wonder if Allborg University with its problem based learning (PBL) is able to sustain something more of aspiral-antenarrative, something more rhizomatic-antenarratively, than the cyclic- and linear-antenarrative of the other universities, whose dividion of labor, is what Arendt (p. 86) calls a "pervesion of labor" into the categories of productive and unproductive intellectual labor, the laboring profesor. The difference between ordinary university and PBL university could be difference of living story connections to narrative, by more spiral-antenarratives, than the cyclical-antenarratives.